Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Most Photographed Place in Colorado

Our last full weekend in Colorado Springs we determined had to be spent at Maroon Bells.  It's allegedly the most photographed place in all of Colorado.  I have no idea how one would actually go about determining such a thing, but based solely on the number of photos we've seen of it while living there, we're inclined to believe the claim.  We figured it was time to go see it for ourselves, and decide if it's worth all the hype.

Justin is, I guess, just a better person than me.  Against my wishes he volunteered to participate in running a Ragnar relay station about an hour from Aspen, Colorado the night before our scheduled visit.  He tried to tell me that it was no big deal because his shift was only 11pm-6am.  He felt compelled to do it because it was a Scout fundraiser for the ward we attended there in Colorado Springs.  The scouts got an impressive amount of money if they had the required number of people volunteer.  So, as annoying as I felt that this was to my personal vacation plans, it's was twice as annoying that it wasn't something that I couldn't insist that he abandon.

Friday after work we loaded up the car and set off on a scenic drive through a place called Independence Pass.  It was a pretty drive, but I found it to be anything but relaxing with narrow lanes, steep drop offs, and a few blind turns where the two lane road we were traveling suddenly became a one lane road without any room to pass, and without any warning.  It wasn't the worst road I've been on, but certainly not the best either.  We arrived at a hotel in Glenwood Springs, Colorado late that evening and Justin checked Vivian and I in, carted our stuff up to the room, and then left to begin his shift at the relay station in the canyon.

He returned to us the next morning, freezing cold and looking every bit the part of someone who spent the night standing around a relay station in a canyon all night.  At least the army teaches you to function without sleep.  He crashed for about an hour and then was up and ready to go see Maroon Bells.  We had to drive to Aspen, where we had read that it was going to cost us $24 to park our car for the day, and then an additional $18 to pay for the bus up to the lake.  There are other cheaper routes, but it involves riding a series of buses that would take hours, and as cheap as we tend to be, it just wasn't worth it, even for us.  So we were thrilled to arrive and find out that the information online was inaccurate, and parking was $5.  The bus was still $9/head, but worth it!  The area is pretty busy, and if you had to deal with all that parking and driving up the canyon to where it's at, I don't think that there's any question that it would detract from the overall experience.

This was our first view stepping off the bus.

These are the hiking sticks I bought Justin for his birthday, after his broken ankle fiasco in Saguaro National Park.  He refuses to use them with me since I'm pregnant, so he brought them along for me.  First I had to wrestle them away from Vivian, but why have I waited so long to use these things?  They're amazing.  We're going to get a second pair...maybe we need to make that two more pairs.

Our first good view of the lake

So we feel like it lived up to the hype.  It was spectacular.

A shot from the little river that drains out of the lake.

I had not expected the water to be this clear. 
The walk around the lake is completely flat.  The views are spectacular, every direction you look it's beautiful, and we instantly understood why everyone raves about this destination.  That being said, after about 30 minutes we kind of felt like we'd seen it, and decided that we should try tackling a little hike up to another lake further up in the mountains.  It was rated as moderate, and maybe 4 or 5 miles roundtrip.  I hike pregnant, but I do not hike quickly while pregnant, so it took a while to get up there, but we felt like this one was also very pretty.
The second lake

Sometimes I think I'm a third wheel with these two.

She is her father's daughter.  She loves the outdoors.
As we were hiking back down we considered a second small hike to a waterfall, but it was clouding over, I am not the fastest hiker out there, and I felt like we might be cutting it a little close catching the last bus back to the parking lot.  We abandoned the idea and started home.  It was raining by the time we got on the bus, so I'm guessing we made the right call.  We would do this trip again in a heartbeat.  It was one of the prettiest places we've seen.

I drove home, and Justin announced that he would stay awake to keep me company for the drive.  I think that lasted all of about an hour into the five hour drive.  I finally woke him up when I spotted a heard of Bighorn Sheep by the side of the road.  He's fascinated with these animals.

He's still waiting for the day that we see one with really big, fully curled horns.
Miraculously he did stay awake and keep me company the last few hours of the drive.  We got back home at a decent hour, which usually doesn't seem to happen to us, and Justin collapsed into bed, grateful for once that church the next day was on the crappy 1pm schedule.  Looking through our photos the next day, this ended up being our most photographed trip in Colorado, hands down.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The beautiful View Inside of a Mountain Cloud

Right after our return from Pagosa Springs we were treated to a visit from Justin's parents.  They were only there for a few days, and Justin's dad was working remotely most of the time that they were in town.  Justin was also working every day that they were there.  The first day they arrived in the late morning, and it was a little too close to nap time to do anything without feeling like we were rushing out and rushing right back, or dealing with a tiny angry bear on our hands if she missed nap time all together.

The second day there we (and by "we" I mean myself, my mother-in-law, and Vivian)  toured the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.  Justin and I had considered doing that several times since we'd been there.  Every time I mentioned it Justin had countered that it was probably a crappy time to visit since most of the athletes were probably already in Rio.  That was actually the case, but I still thought the visit was interesting.  I didn't take many pictures.  As it turns out, it wasn't really a picture kind of place.  I mean, how interesting is a picture of a swimming pool or a weight room?  In my opinion, not very.  I did get this little photo of Vivian in the gym:
Apparently the gymnasts don't actually train there or something, because they don't meet the age requirements of the training center.  So it was a bit unclear to me why there's a gymnastics gym there in the first place.  I might know if it weren't for the fact that Vivian was determined to go jump around on the equipment while the tour guide was talking, and I missed probably 90% of what he had to say in that particular room.

She climbed all the way up to the top and was teetering dangerously for a second before her grandma could  rush over and start easing her back down "the ladder."

Olympic athlete isn't anything I'd ever hope for her...
So it was interesting, and I'm glad we did it, but Justin might be right about it being more interesting when the athletes are all there.

The next day we set out a little earlier and decided to visit the local zoo.  My Viv loves animals, so this had been on the list to do for some time.  This zoo turned out to be really great.  There seemed to be an unusual number of "interactive" animal exhibits, and a lot of the reptile exhibits had a very unique design that allowed for little kids to easily spot the animal.
One of the first things we did was feed the giraffes.  Vivian was pretty enthusiastic at first, but once that tongue was out there searching for the food she was content to just observe someone else get licked.  The experience however, does seem to have placed giraffes at the top of her favorite animal list, and she still occasionally talks about feeding them. 

Those tongues really are crazy.

Petting some sort of lizard.

An example of the exhibits in the reptile house

Touching a snake

Touching a turtle
She really seemed to be pretty enthusiastic about touching all the animals, and we were impressed with how unafraid she was about it.  Then we got to the goat farm...
She was only okay touching them if they weren't looking at her.  As soon as they turned she would run.

And of course she was thrilled to take a turn on the carousel
We were out of time before we were out of zoo.  I think that there was still a fair amount of stuff that we never got to see.  All the same, we left to go meet up with my father-in-law for a very late lunch.  

As soon as we finished lunch we met up with Justin, who was just off work and left to go ride the cog train to the summit of Pike's Peak.  This was something else we'd had our eye on doing since we first arrived in Colorado Springs.  We had read that the views from up on top are spectacular.  Unfortunately, we had bought our tickets two weeks out, and somehow managed to pick the coldest day in Colorado Springs since we had arrived back in May.
This is the view from shortly after we left.

The long napless day at the zoo quickly caught up with Vivian.

The view about halfway up had turned to this.

At the summit

They said it was only 33 degrees outside, it didn't feel quite that cold, but not exactly sunny weather either.
So our view from 14,000 feet was a lot like standing in a small room with a blasting fog machine, but at least we can say we did it, and I still found the experience to be pretty enjoyable.  The in-laws had to leave again the next morning, but we were glad that they were able to come spend a few days with us this summer in Colorado.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Royal Gorge, Great Sand Dunes, and Pagosa Springs

The weekend after Sarah's visit Justin was ready to explore all of Colorado at once.  This is the problem, there was so much he wanted to see, and with our time in the Springs already ticking away, we were almost paralyzed with indecision.  So that weekend we ended up taking a drive out to Great Sand Dunes National Park.  I think we were both a little disappointed in ourselves for choosing this, since we've already been there once, but it was beautiful, one of our favorite places, and the route we had planned was completely different since last time we were driving up from New Mexico.  So with that we struck out on our little trip, and made our first stop at the Royal Gorge Bridge Park.  This is apparently the highest suspension bridge in North America.
My people on the bridge.  You can rent golf carts to drive across to a little amusement park type place on the other side, hence the speed limit sign. 
The highest suspension bridge in North America...why does she do this to me?

I need to get her some BYU gear so that she can represent who she really is a little bit better.

Those little red dots are the tram that you can ride back across the gorge, but I don't do things like that, because I will freak out and embarrass myself if I do, so we walked back across.

You can also pay to zipline back across.

We found the Idaho flag on the way back, and we were all starting to look hot and over it.
So the bridge was totally overpriced.  I honestly wouldn't recommend it to anyone.  I guess people go there to make a day of it with the rides on the other side, but even that didn't sound fun.  It was just too hot and too expensive for that.  Furthermore this bridge bounces and sways a LOT.  I don't like heights, I like them even less when I can see a river waaaaay down below me through the wooden slats of the bridge as I bounce along to the other side.  In fact, this swaying and bouncing was significant enough that by the time we got to the end and turned around to come back again Justin and I were both starting to feel a little sick, and I don't think that Vivian was really doing all that great either.  This wasn't maybe the funnest thing we've ever done, but now we know.

After that we continued on through a canyon road that ran beside a river, and it was absolutely beautiful, and took forever to get through.  Getting to the park took hours longer than we had anticipated, so we arrived at Great Sand Dunes in the late afternoon/early evening.  There were lots of hikes we wanted to do, but the pregnancy ruled out some of them, time constraints ruled out more of them, and Vivian's desire to be out of the car, and not in a hiking backpack ruled out the rest.  So we settled for playing around in the sand, and watching Vivian "swim" in Medano Creek.
Playing in the sand

Running through the creek

This is still one of our favorite places, and one National Park that we would visit over and over again.
The day was a success.  The park is just as beautiful as we remembered it.  Vivian loved the sand, loved the mud, loved the creek, and was completely exhausted by the time we finally loaded back up and started the drive home.  We went home a different route than how we had come, and were home in about half the time it had taken us to get there.  

For the next weekend we had happened across a few days that opened up in the timeshare in Pagosa Springs, and we had booked it immediately.  We had been keeping our eye on that timeshare for a while and determined that it was so booked up all summer that there was just no way that we would ever be so fortunate as to find an opening, but there it was, and off we went to Pagosa Springs.  We left Friday as soon as Justin got off work.  I feel like I should repeat myself, we left as soon as Justin got off work.  We actually pulled that off for once.  We drove in through Wolf Creek pass, the drive was incredibly scenic, and we found that Pagosa Springs is as well.  It's famous for it's hot springs, but here again hot springs/'s not a good combination.  There were lots of other interesting things to do in the area, but we double rented all summer to hold our place in Logan, and it's not like he was raking in the dough at the internship, so a lot of it fell outside our price range (I'm primarily referring to a railroad trip that we would like to take some day when we have more monies).  We settled on hiking, and there were some very promising trails in the area.  We selected one that was supposed to be about 7 miles roundtrip to a waterfall.
The view from our balcony at the timeshare.

Vivian just needs dirt and rocks to be happy. 
Hiking's not very pretty.

Playing around at the bottom of the falls.

View from the hike back to the car
For some reason it didn't occur to us until we were pretty much stumbling back to the car, that maybe 7 miles at 8,000 feet was a bit much for the first outing in a while.  We made it, but I was completely exhausted by the time we got back, and it was Justin's misfortune to have a very crabby wife on his hands by the end of things.  We retreated back to the timeshare for a nap, and the world seemed a bit more cheery in it's aftermath.  We didn't do much of anything that evening, just spent some time relaxing, and enjoying real furniture, which our apartment in Colorado Springs was sadly lacking.

The next morning we got up, packed up our things, checked out and planned our route home via the "Million Dollar Highway."  We had read that it's a little scary, steep drop-offs, no guard rails, but proclaimed by some to be the most scenic drive in all of Colorado.  So Justin put me in the driver's seat so that he didn't have to listen to me panicking at him about driving too fast, not focusing on the road, and getting too close to the edge, and off we went.  It was beautiful, really beautiful, but we have definitely been on scarier, and just as pretty in Colorado too.  That's not to say it was a disappointment at all, because it wasn't, but to be fair, Colorado is laced with roads that wind through beautiful mountain passes, so it's hard to say that this is the most spectacular.  

That route home was definitely not the fastest and we rolled back into Colorado Springs late that night, but thrilled with how the weekend had gone, and feeling even more sad that our time in Colorado seemed to be slipping away faster than we had hoped.